If you’ve no interest in video and just want to take decent digital photos, there is a wealth of choice for the budget photographer. You absolutely do not need 20mp resolution, 100 point dual pixel auto focus, 12fps capability to take amazing pictures that can be printed at a reasonable size, framed up and put on the wall.
However, you can go too far back in history and end up with something that is starting to creak a little at the seams. If you’re going to buy a super budget, old DSLR, you do at least want a body which has around 6-8mp of resolution, reasonably good auto focus, compatibility with decent size memory cards and a relatively responsive interface. With that as our “decent budget” criteria, what can we get from the usual outlets for less than a Friday night Domino’s pizza?
Can you buy a usable, capable DSLR set up for £30 or less? Let’s find out.
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The gamblers paradise – Ebay. If you’re willing to take a risk with a few quid then you can get very lucky on ebay if you know what you’re looking for and look at pictures very carefully. If you want to go down the route of “as cheap as it is possible to get without stealing” then trying to pick something up as “untested” (very, definitely broken and they know it) then you can occasionally get away with either buying something that works straight off the bat, or will at least work with a little care and attention.
I picked up a 20D for next to nothing simply because the owner had lost the charger and so sold it as parts – that worked out of the box. In contrast, I bought a 30D that to all intents and purposes looked perfect, yet was full of fungus in the most awkward of places. I quite enjoyed the repair process, but its not for everyone and you’ll be off your face on hydrogen peroxide if you do encounter fungus. Both of those bodies came in well under our current budget.
Then, of course, is the experience of buying a 300D which turned out to have a very poorly CF card slot, a fungus infested sensor and culminated in me making a FrankenCamera out of various 300D’s sold as spares. That’s not a cheap way of doing things, you end up spending more in spares than you would just buying a working model, but I’m an advocate of repair and can’t let something fixable go to waste.
I spent some time looking at the most recent sold prices for fully working, or advertised as such, Canon DSLR’s within our £30 budget and I can honestly say I’m shocked at how much is out there and how much you can get if you wait for just the right item to come along.
I’m not sure if this one counts, although I’d like it to. £22 for a working 30D is an incredible deal. The 30D is a brilliant camera with a decent and usable screen on the back. The 30D produces 8.2mp images which is a real tipping point in terms of resolution. Anything 8mp or higher is going to give you images that you can print up to A4 and probably bigger without any drop in quality. Be realistic – how often do you even print an image let alone blow it up beyond that size.
Why doesn’t this count? Well, I may have a cupboard full of Canon gear that can be chopped and changed between bodies, but I’m not normal in any way. There are quite a few auctions like this where you don’t get a battery or charger. I know you need a lens on top to take pictures, but the goal here is to get at least a body, battery and charger to get us started – a lens will be a bonus.
I kept digging and next up is a genuine bargain:
£20, free postage, includes everything you need. Just stop right there, your search is complete.
The 20D is a brilliant camera that has all the features you need to go shooting and take beautiful photos. It’s an upgrade over the D60/10D which came before in almost every respect including the little joystick controller on the back which is an absolute dream to use when changing focus points or reviewing images.
Sensor resolution is identical to the 30D, indeed the only real downgrade from the 30D is the size of the screen on the back of the camera. I’ve written many times about how I hardly use the screens on these cameras, but obviously I’m in a minority when it comes to how I use a digital camera. It’s all too easy to get carried away with specifications, comparing models on a micro level and worrying about minor changes. As far as I’m concerned you are more likely to run out of talent before the 20D runs out of capability to take the images you require.
Sometimes pictures can be deceiving. I think this seller lost a reasonable amount of cash because of a poor auction title and opening image. What looks like just another 20D body for sale, actually turns out to be a whole lot more with a battery grip, 3 batteries and some other bits and pieces included. It comes in under budget and goes to show that if you’re patient and look carefully you’re going to find some steals.
The 350D commands a price premium that is utterly inexplicable. It may only be £5-10 over other bodies but it is undeniable that these consistently sell for more than the 20D. Why anyone would buy one when given the choice is beyond me, yet if they were the only choice you had then you could do a lot, lot worse.
The 350D was a revolution in the cheap DSLR market, and the first really affordable DSLR that sold in droves. At around £600 for the kit complete with lens, it was an attractive deal to people who were looking to jump on the digital photography bandwagon but wanted full control over their shooting experience. With fast 7 point auto focus, 8mp resolution and access to the full range of Canon lenses and accessories it was right on the money.
The 350D has an extremely compact body design that makes it a great travel companion with a 50mm f1.8 attached. I purchased one soon after they launched and loved it, but make no mistake the ergonomics are really poor in comparison to a 10, 20 or 30D. You really will notice the tiny plasticky grip and the sneezing noise the shutter and mirror assembly make every time you take an image.
This auction shows that, if we cheat a little with the price of postage, you can actually pick up a truly complete kit along with lens for just about the right money. Just beware of the inherent limitations of the design and the odd price skew for these models.
I have an odd relationship with the 10D in that I have a totally irrational and bias love of it. If I were being brutally honest I’d point out that it takes far too long to start up and the buffer needs a little lie down every time you fire a shot. The pictures it produces from the 6mp sensor, though, are just incredible and the AF is spot on.
The 10D is the oldest Canon camera in their DSLR lineup that I’d recommend to anyone. Yes it does take time to start up, but once you’ve turned it on there’s really nothing that stands in the way of you taking decent images. It does niggle me that you don’t get the 8 way joystick controller, but in every other way the controls and ergonomics are sorted.
This is one of those bodies where if you see a total bargain and there’s nothing else around then don’t hesitate to buy it. If you can hold out for a 20 or 30D, then ideally you should, but don’t discount a 10D even though they’re starting to show signs of “old so must be ‘rare'” nonsense pricing that happens on ebay.
Ebay, then, is on to a winner. There is a constant stream of affordable and really tempting, capable cameras on offer. Be patient, stick to your budget and you’ll find a complete kit with lens if you’re lucky. A little less patience and you’ll pick up a body, battery and charger kit without any difficulty.
For sheer convenience, ease of use and piece of mind, you can’t go far wrong with MPB. However, to actually buy a sub £30 camera from them you’re going to need to compromise or bend the rules.
MPB don’t do free postage, so you’re going to have to factor in a charge on top of the prices you see here and the really cheap cameras are a waiting game for them to come into stock. When it comes to condition, don’t worry about “well used” condition. I recently bought a well used Nikon from them and it looks like it has been really well looked after other than the silver paint on the shutter button has worn down – hardly an issue.
Truly within budget, your only option from MPB is a Canon 300D and honestly I struggle to recommend them. They’re deliberately crippled in some areas and whilst you can install custom firmware, it’s a total faff and gets lost every time you format the CF card.
Next up is the 350D and you’re going to have to wait for “well used” to get it under budget – anything above that is just over our £30 price limit and certainly so when you include postage. I really don’t think you can justify either of these options at the bottom end of the market when a few minutes on ebay will see you with a camera that out performs either in every single area from ergonomics, handling, controls to overall image quality.
MPB do decent prices on slightly newer kit, but for this particular challenge, they’re not the place for us.
Finally, we can always spend some time wading through the quagmire of garbage that fills the likes of Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace and similar.
But honestly, just don’t waste your time.
It appears that Marketplace in particular is populated solely by people who are utterly deluded and think that their second hand gear has retained pretty much its original purchase price. I do wonder if they have asked themselves why it is no one is contacting them about their 15 year old kit that costs the same as a 5D mark iii elsewhere…
It doesn’t matter how good it is, how many accessories you chuck in, no 400D or similar model is worth over £100 and that’s before we get on to discussing how utterly awful that 18-55 ef-s kit lens was. Those lenses are enough to put you off DSLR photography for life.
Sadly, because marketplace is free to list and sell on, I think this prevents people from being guided on sensible prices and pushes them to try their luck. I can’t see how it’s ever successful, however. I do keep my eye on it every now and again to see if something sensible pops up, but to this day I’ve never found anything worth picking up, certainly not local to me anyway.
I don’t understand second hand prices, I really don’t. Logically you’d assume that prices would reflect the original positions each camera had in their launch line up, yet they don’t. The fact that the 350D costs more than 20 or even 30D doesn’t make any sense at all, yet that is the situation we find ourselves in today.
For £30 you can buy a shockingly good digital camera. Tools that once cost the best part of £1000 are now available for a fraction of the price, but this drop in price does not mean that their ability to take great pictures has somehow diminished. The fact of the matter is these bodies spit out fantastic image quality which is dictated almost solely by the quality of lens you bolt on the front of it. Light is light, a sensor of the quality in a 20 or 30D is as good as you need – these cameras were not first generation primitive technology.
Getting the best out of an old camera is as simple as putting your money into a good lens and these days that’s easier than it ever has been. I’ve been shooting with the Canon 50mm f1.8 stm lens for a while now and it’s their “entry level” 50mm. I very nearly picked up a 50mm F1.4 USM as an upgrade until I went onto the DXO mark website and found that in every area, the cheaper F1.8 matches it – including in terms of sharpness resolution. This is madness.
It seems that your budget bargain best buys are as follows:
Cheapest all in, complete with lens kit : Canon 350D with 18-55 or similar lens. Expect to pay the full £30.
Best body only kit: Canon 30D if you’re patient.
Best all round budget body with money to spare: Canon 20D
There is no doubt you can get a stupid amount of camera for the price of a takeaway. At present, anyone looking for a cheap entry into RAW photography is spoiled for choice and with the unstoppable rise of mirrorless with their horrible electronic viewfinders, older lenses are now beginning to drop in price making some really affordable, attractive options in terms of optics.
If I only had £30 in my pocket I’d try to source a 20D with a lens and just get out there and concentrate on getting better at taking photos. If you’re not precious about lenses to begin with, you can often pick up Tamron or Sigma lenses for a few quid from charity shop auctions and any standard 20ish to 50ish zoom lens is going to get you going.
Unlike film cameras, there are a few more factors to take into consideration when buying digital bodies. I really value my bottom of the range 300V film camera for its light weight, compact design but its spiritual digital successor the 350D is not a favourite at all. Ergonomically it doesn’t cut it and the controls are frustrating because Canon decided to differentiate by removing the control wheel.
Furthermore, although resolution isn’t the be all and end all, you do want to aim for around 8mp if you can. This means that some bodies are now beginning to show their age somewhat with 3-6mp sensors seriously limiting you if you wanted to do some cropping or remove noise by reducing the size of the image.
Fundamentally, though, there has never been a better time to get into DSLR photography. For pure still image photography you cannot ever beat an optical viewfinder coupled with a decent prime lens. With lens prices set to fall, you have a world of professional glass at affordable prices waiting for you and you’ll get far more bang for your buck spending on lenses than you ever will spending £3000 on the latest body and 20 more megapixels of resolution you don’t need to post your favourite images online.Share this post: